All posts for the month April, 2012

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A male Prairie Warbler sings from his perch in an Autumn Olive near Trail Marker 5 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 28, 2012.

With April almost finished and May on the way, the activity level of birds is really picking up.  Many birds are already nesting, and a visit to the Middle Run Birding Trail this morning showed Tree Swallows gathering nesting material, Carolina Chickadees on seven eggs, and Eastern Bluebirds feeding three fledglings. 

Recently-arrived neo-tropical migrants like Prairie Warblers are on territory and singing, trying to attract a mate for the nesting season.   The “Meadow Mosaic” area on the Middle Run Birding Trail between Markers #4 and 6 had three different male Prairie Warblers singing.

A male Blue-headed Vireo shows himself briefly as he goes about the business of finding food. Image by Derek Stoner, April 28, 2012.

Other birds are passing through the area on their way to nesting grounds further north.  The Blue-headed Vireo is a bird that breeds primarily in the Boreal Forest of Canada, and stops by Delaware on its north-ward migration.  Vireos and all other species of migrant songbirds depend upon an abundance of insects (primarily caterpillars and flies) that are found on native plants.   At this time of year, trees in the Oak, Cherry, and Poplar family are good bets to attract birds.

A Warbling Vireo pauses in a Tulip Tree while feeding on caterpillars. Image by Derek Stoner, April 28, 2012.

The Warbling Vireo is a species of vireo that breeds locally along streams, and is often found nesting in Sycamore trees.  This bird I observed today was gleaning caterpillars from a young Tulip Tree, in the slow and steady manner that is characteristic of vireos.  Perhaps it will stay to nest at Middle Run!

What Spring migrants and bird activity are you seeing in your area right now?

By Brenna Goggin, Environmental Advocate

If you have never wondered about the process your drinking water goes through before it gets to your faucet, you are not alone. The Delaware Nature Society’s Wilmington Drinking Water Tour, led by Sally O’Byrne this week, provided the opportunity to discover where, when, and how your drinking water ends up in your glass. The City of Wilmington has used the Brandywine River as its primary drinking water source since 1827. Wilmington officials and Water Department employees quickly learned that water (treated and untreated) would have to be stored at various locations through the City. These locations include Cool Springs Reservoir, Rockford Tower, and Hoopes Reservoir.  Hold on to your mugs as we take you on a water drop’s journey from the Brandywine River to your teacup.

The Brandywine River is a major source of drinking water for Wilmington, Delaware.

As a drop of water, my journey began one day, when I was peacefully meandering down the Brandywine River. Suddenly, I was pulled from my path into a mill race that took me to the Brandywine Pumping Station, which is located in downtown Wilmington and is filled with three generations of pumping mechanisms. If I had traveled from the river in the early 1900’s, my transportation would have been provided by a 5-story, 1906 Holly Steam Engine (taken offline in 1968).  The modern pump I went through, however, was hardly larger than a fire hydrant.

Hoopes Reservoir is a raw water storage location for Wilmington drinking water.

From the pumping station, I traveled directly to Hoopes Reservoir where I waited to be treated.  I stayed there for several pleasant weeks.  When my time was called, and the people of Wilmington needed me, I was pumped yet again from Hoopes Reservoir to the Porter Filtration Plant, located near the Alapocas State Park in Wilmington.  Here, I went through several steps to ensure I was safe for drinking.

This raw water holding tank is where drinking water waits to be treated.

I waited patiently in the 36-million-gallon holding tank surrounded by the rest of the untreated, aka “raw” drops of water.  All of a sudden, I was pulled from my holding tank and travelled through a beautiful brick gatehouse and into green pipes where I began the “treatment” process. Ferric Chloride was used as a coagulant to help any dirt I traveled with to clump together.  I then enjoyed a ride in one of the six clariflocculators as I separated from the surrounding clumps of dirt.  I also received a complimentary treatment of lime to help bolster my ph and alkalinity levels.  The rocky part of the journey was when I traveled from the clariflocculators through a 12-step filtration and purification system full of stones, sand, and concrete. The end result ensured that I was polished and chemical free before heading through yet more pipes. Finally, I received a complimentary injection of chlorine and fluoride before heading to the “treated” holding tanks.  The tank I was sent to was Rockford Tower which provided the perfect view of Wilmington before gravity forced me into a nearby home where I quickly got boiled and poured into a cup of tea.  It was a very productive trip if I do say so myself! 

Rockford Tower is a location where treated, finished drinking water is stored. Gravity takes it to your faucet from there.

The Delaware Nature Society offers this trip and others with Sally O’Byrne, that educate our members about utilities, water, waste, and other necessary human industries every season.  This summer, the Conservation Action Force camp for 11-15 year olds will examine this water system as well as and other issues like air, water quality, large-scale composting, agriculture, biodiversity, and will tour Delaware’s Legislative Hall to report our findings.  If you know an 11-15 year old that might be interested, please register them for the camp at

Finally, my journey ended in a enjoyable and relaxing cup of tea.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Trout Lily was discovered blooming at Ashland on March 30, a full two weeks earlier than in 2011. Image by Derek Stoner.
The past two weeks have seen an incredible burst of Spring activity in the plant and animal world locally.  The trend of warmth and plenty of sunshine has helped the trees leaf out quickly and lots of flowers bloom “earlier than average.”
For this Signs of Spring update, we go back to March 30 when Joe Sebastiani reported the first Trout Lily of the year blooming along the floodplain at Ashland.  Also that same day, multiple observers reported the first Violets of spring in bloom at Ashland. 
The following week, on April 6, Kim Steininger observed our first House Wren of the season at Ashland, as she was walking up Hawk Watch Hill.    And just yesterday, April 10, Joe Sebastiani saw the first Barn Swallows of the spring at Ashland.
So, as of April 10, 19 out of 20 Official Signs of spring have been recorded at Ashland in 2012.  The lone holdout?  A Water Snake!   Last year’s first Water Snake was reported on April 20.  Will we beat that record this year?
What Signs of Spring are you seeing in your neighborhood?

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Two pairs of Tree Swallows battle over a newly-installed nest box on the Middle Run Birding Trail, at Trail Marker #1. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

The bi-weekly bird walk at Middle Run started with a major squabble today:  the competition between two pairs of Tree Swallows for a nest box looked like New Yorkers fighting over that prize Fifth Avenue penthouse suite!  Just the evening before, I had installed this nest box with the help of Nick Mielnickiwicz, who is a volunteer working on habitat enhancement on the Middle Run Birding Trail.  Now the Tree Swallows caught our attention as they showed their attraction to this new addition to the field habitat at Trail Marker #1. 

A bright male Palm Warbler perches in a cherry tree at Trail Marker #3, the aptly-named Cherry Tree Island.

As our group made our way along the birding trail near Trail Marker #3, I caught a glimpse of a flash of yellow.  Soon our binoculars found a handsome Palm Warbler perched low in a blackberry patch, bobbing its tail in a classic manner.  These bright warblers are an early spring migrant, passing through on their way to breeding grounds in spruce bogs of the boreal forest.   Another male Palm Warbler showed up, and they chased each other around before landing in a cherry tree.  Their high-pitched trilling song was a good comparison to the high-pitched bubbly phrases of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing nearby.

A Hermit Thrush perches on a low grape vine at Trail Marker #7 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, March 30, 2012.

While walking through the large field we call “Meadow Mosaic” we came across a pair of Eastern Bluebirds visiting the nest box right near Trail Marker #4.    Then at Trail Marker #5 we found a real surprise: a flycatcher that was perched atop Autumn Olive bushes and actively pursuing flying insects.   We managed brief views of this bird and all we can say for sure is that it is a flycatcher in the genus Empidonax, a group of birds known for the challenge of differentiating among several similar-looking species.  Most likely the bird we saw is a Willow Flycatcher, but we will play it safe and say it is a very early arrival for this time of year!

At Trail Marker #7 I remarked that a Hermit Thrush was there three days prior, when all of the sudden we heard the bird calling chup-chup.  Soon we were looking at a beautiful Hermit Thrush slowly raising and lowering its rusty red tail.  This bird is often regarded as having the most beautiful song of any North American bird.  Alas, on this day we did not hear the song!

A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker probes a sap well in a hickory tree at Trail Marker #9 on the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

A bit further down the trail, at Trail Marker #9, Becky spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker visiting its sap wells on a hickory tree.  At this time of year, lots of insects are attracted to the sweet sap flowing from these holes that the colorful sapsucker drills.  As a result, many other species of birds like kinglets, chickadees, and even Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will visit the sap wells to feed upon the insects.  For this reason the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a considered a “keystone species” that is important to the overall health of a forest ecosytem.     

A male Louisiana Waterthrush sings loudly from right above our heads at Trail Marker #11, the bridge above the Middle Run stream. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

Soon the vibrant song of the Louisiana Waterthrush led us ahead on the path to Trail Marker #11, were we found three male waterthrush engaged in a singing duel.  These newly-arrived migrants were trying to establish territorial claims, and chased each other up and down the main branch of Middle Run and up the little tributaries.  These woodland warblers are found wherever there is clean, fast-flowing water with an abundance of aquatic insects on which they can feed.

Enjoying views of the nesting Pileated Woodpeckers at the beginning (and end!) of the Middle Run Birding Trail. Image by Derek Stoner, April 3, 2012.

As we had concluded the previous two walks at Middle Run with fantastic views of Pileated Woodpeckers at a nest cavity, we had to try our luck again.  With spotting scope trained on the nest hole near the parking lot, we were soon treated to views of the male Pileated peeking out and looking around.  Is the female Pileated sitting on eggs inside the cavity?  Or are they still continuing to work on this potential nest location?  Either way, we are fortunate to be able to watch these wonderful woodpeckers as they go about the business of housekeeping. 

We finished the walk with a count of 45 species of birds, including migrants like Barn Swallows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Chipping Sparrows that did not make the cut for photo features in this blog!  Thanks to all the participants for a great morning spent afield enjoying the birds.

The next guided bird walk at Middle Run Natural Area will be held on Tuesday, April 17, from 8:00am to 10:00am.   If you would like to visit the Middle Run Birding Trail on your own,  the trail markers are labeled in the field with numbers on brown posts with a bird logo.  Here is a map showing the overview of the area and the Trail Marker locations:

Middle Run Birding Trail Map 2012